Sunday, March 23, 2008

More on the Soul Corrupting Ideas of Hell:

Here is the testimony of a guy -- someone who is featured on all sorts of evangelical programs including the 700 Club -- of spending 23 minutes in Hell. It's in line with Jonathan Edwards' notion of Hell as eternal torture. And it's sickening that folks believe this.

I give a lot of leeway on religious beliefs and tend to shy away from the harsh criticisms of Hitchens, Dawkins, et al. Almost all evangelicals I know do not support Fred Phelps because his conclusions are self-evidently offensive and evil. However I would say Bill Wiese's testimony is as soul corrupting as what Fred Phelps and militant Islam believe. And indeed, Wiese, Phelps and militant Islam all hold to the same view of Hell as eternal torture.

Most of my skeptic friends will (probably rightly) write off such testimony as either a lie or an hallucination. If you do take such testimony seriously, I can point you to the testimony of plenty of non-Christians who had near death experiences, notably Sharon Stone (pro-gay, non-Christian, typifies Hollywood liberalism). She nearly died of a brain aneurysm. And she testifies to the most peaceful near death experience such that she no longer fears death.

But how notions such as Wiese's corrupt the soul. 1) He describes Hell as eternal torture, 300 degree heat, demons breaking every bones in your body, snakes and creepy crawly things, and worse. 2) Almost all evangelical believers have unsaved loved ones, many of whom have died. I've asked them point blank about how they feel and have gotten responses such as "I know my father is probably in Hell but I am at peace anyway." 3) Think of a loved one suffering say torture at the hands of Al-Qaeda, in a Nazi concentration camp (which is probably not even as bad as what Weiss describes) and then imagine a parent, child, brother or sister, remarking something along the lines of "I am at peace with their situation, and because of their sins -- because bad things do not happen to good people, because there are no good people, they are really just getting what they deserve." You would rightly react there is something wrong with this person, that their soul has been corrupted, that their beliefs are just sick. Indeed, Fred Phelps who thanks God for 9-11, Katrina, all natural disasters, the school shootings, etc. -- is just the reductio ad absurdum of Calvinist theology and the traditional teachings on Hell as eternal torture and human beings deserving the bad things that happen to them because of their sin. His theological teachings are 100% in line with such traditional Calvinist notions. He's just not afraid to whitewash and show you how ugly they are. Belief that human beings deserve eternal torture is ugly and can only bring ugliness.

Again, I'm bashing neither belief in God nor the Bible. I would note there are plenty of alternate theological teachings within evangelical Christianity that can get you out of this corner of belief in a doctrine that is as bad as the Westboro Baptist Church or militant Islam. One is annihilation, what the atheist thinks he's going to get after death anyway.

The second, which I mentioned last post, I'll explore in a little more detail. It's folks using their free-will to choose to be in Hell. Since CS Lewis, there has been some emphasis in Christian thought on the notion that people are in Hell because they choose to be there or that the doors are locked from the inside, which begs the question, why would folks choose to be there? Lewis' notion by the way is not at all consistent with John Calvin's or Jonathan Edwards'. See the debate between Fred Phelps and John Rankin -- an evangelical who puts forth a notion of Hell similar to Lewis'. Phelps, well representing the Calvinist/Edwardsian view laughs at the notion that the doors of Hell are locked from the inside or that folks choose to be there. John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards likewise would laugh at Lewis' notion.

The Catholic Church, even, it seems has embraced this hyper-Arminian free will notion that folks are in Hell out of choice, and indeed, as Tom Van Dyke points out, this has led to serious flirtation with the notion of universal salvation.

Lewis' notion is that the people would rather be in Hell because they hate God or as Rankin puts it, they are happier not in His presence. But, this belies the notion that accepting Christ as God before death is the only way to Heaven (perhaps after death, once we have 100% evidence we'll all accept this and get into Heaven).

As I understand Protestant evangelicalism, they believe Mormons qua Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses qua JWs, Muslim qua Muslims, Arians qua Arians, Socininians qua Socinians, perhaps Catholics qua Catholics all go to Hell. (Arians believe Jesus is divine but created and subordinate to the Father, Socinians believe Jesus 100% human not God at all; both deny the Trinity and both are traditionally viewed as soul damning heresies). In short, folks go to Hell for making theological errors, for mistakenly choosing the wrong road. None of these folks claim to hate God. All claim to devoutly worship Him. So the Arian, like Isaac Newton, dies and finds out “oh God really is Triune, not Unitary in Nature,” and he’s going to hate him?!?

CS Lewis’ notion logically leads to the idea that Hell will be very unpopulated, that the path to God is broad, and lots of non-Trinitarians and non-Christians will get into Heaven. Maybe a few Christopher Hitchenses and Richard Dawkinses, who claim to hate God and hope there is none; but that's it. And if Hell really is eternal torture, I'm sorry but even Hitchens and Dawkins would rather be in the presence of a borish God in whom they don't want to exist than an eternal Nazi concentration camp.

In my last post, I wrote folks might choose Hell if they get to enjoy their favorite sins for all of eternity. That’s the only rational explanation, indeed one that would explain not only why Dawkins and Hitchens would choose Hell, but also why the vast majority of humanity would. I received a response from one SMatthewStolte that puzzled me. He wrote:

I could say that choosing sin over righteousness is, just by its nature, the most irrational decision one could possibly make.

I replied that, taking orthodox Christian premises for granted, ask why do people sin in the first place? Part of it comes from an irresistible temptation to do so, emphasis on the word temptation. You are tempted to do things that you enjoy. People enjoy their “sins” be they gluttony, pride, fornication, sodomy, adultery, drunkenness, profanity, or what have you. Since you can't sin in God's presence, none of these would be tolerated in Heaven. It seems perfectly reasonable that some folks would choose eternity being able to live out their favorite sins than eternity in the presence of a God who wouldn’t permit such sin. In this regard, think of Hell as an eternal Las Vegas nightclub. Sin City indeed, heh.

Of course, as noted, the Edwardsian, Calvinist notion of Hell laughs at the idea that folks are in Hell voluntarily, that the doors are locked from the inside. See Fred Phelps' take.


Nate Phelps said...

You articulate your points well. Perhaps I shouldn't comment at all on this whole issue because my sincere reaction to the notion of hell is an incredulous chuckle. I am vividly aware of the extremes of Calvinism and decided early on that my father's radical notions only served to demonstrate the utter nonsense of the whole Calvinist system of theology, and ultimately all theology.

It may sound trite, but it seems important to ask questions can the "worm that feeds on you" never die? how can demons break every bone in your body for eternity? At some point you run out of bones and body to feed on. Even if the worm only ate one inch of you per century, eternity is a long time. Let's say that demon is pretty slow at his job and manages to break a bone once every era...he still will run out of bones long before eternity expires. These may seem like silly points, but to me they do a perfect job of showing the ultimate failing of all these goofy beliefs that so many humans embrace.

For me, the point you raise about Christians being at peace with the idea that a loved one is suffering the worst kind of torture after death highlights the ultimate evil of such religious beliefs. This sickness has infected my entire family as they proudly display their righteous disdain for a brother, sister, son or daughter who has chosen to reject their system of belief. "Sins" such as fornication, adultery, drunkenness, and profanity pale in comparison to such unnatural cruelty.

In the end, I come down squarely in favor of Hawkins, Hitchens, Smith, etc. I may disagree with some of the nuances of their arguments and some of their conclusions, but their clearheaded adherence to logical proof and rejection of mythology resonates with me.

Jonathan said...

Many thanks for the compliment and for checking in.

Sandra said...

Hi Nate, I am so sorry to hear what happened to you as a child. There is never an excuse for child abuse and this is definately not what the bible teaches. I can see that it has turned you away from God and I'm so sorry.

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